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Dr. Dre - Compton (Album Review)

Tuesday, 18 August 2015 Written by Huw Baines

‘Detox’ is gone, saved a ‘Chinese Democracy’-style unveiling and, per Dr. Dre’s own assessment of its quality, subsequent dismissal. In its place we have ‘Compton’, the album that he is intent on signing off with and one that is both immersive and expansive in a manner that its scrapped predecessor likely could not have been.

It’s a record that doesn’t pander to expectation. It can’t be diced up into the chunks that made ‘2001’ such a grab-bag of hits, instead favouring a city-wide sprawl that percolates through Dre’s experiences on the Straight Outta Compton biopic. Faces come and go, dropping in for a verse and reappearing later in the piece as Dre serves as puppet master. 

‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, Kendrick Lamar’s instant classic second album, is an obvious reference point and it’s not hard to see a fire being lit under Dre by a prodigious talent from the same streets that shaped his formative years with NWA, and one set on redressing the imbalances in the world he sees before him.

Duly, Lamar is one of this album’s headline names, but he’s among a cadre of young talent, including Anderson .Paak and Justus, who deliver the album’s edge and soul.

King Mez opens things on Talk About It, punctuating a rolling beat that began life rattling around the brain of DJ Dahi, and is a near constant presence throughout, the frontman to Dre’s guiding hand and an observant, multi-faceted lyricist.

The canvas is huge here, but it is packed with vivid imagery. At times Dre is bellicose, at others he is a grumbling presence able to poke fun at himself - “Still got Eminem checks I ain’t opened yet.” - but the view from his window is a sobering one.

Almost 30 years after ‘Straight Outta Compton’, so little has changed. Fuelled by the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, .Paak lays it out on Animals with help from DJ Premier and BMB SpaceKid: “Got a son of my own, look him right in his eyes. I ain't living in fear, but I'm holding him tight.” As a side note, money from this release will be put towards a new performing arts facility in Compton.

The prominence of new voices adds to the idea of a torch being passed, but the levels at which Lamar, Mez and .Paak are operating have a profound effect on the old guard. Ice Cube’s spin around Hollywood appears to have dulled few of his sharp edges, while Snoop Dogg swings for the fences with his verse on One Shot One Kill, sounding energised in a manner that he hasn’t for years.

Snoop also seamlessly sets up one of a number of Marsha Ambrosius hooks on Satisfiction, where he adopts a knowing, self-referential flow. Eminem appears on Medicine Man, fired up but able to leave only a bad taste after yet another foray into blank-eyed misogyny. His is the guest spot that falls a good way short of its billing.

‘Compton’, despite being inspired by a trip into the past, isn’t simply a reminder of former glories. It’s hard and honest, widescreen in scope and generous with its time, offering the floor to stars past, present and future. If this is to be Dre’s final statement, then it’s one to rank alongside and complete a remarkable trilogy.


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